People seem to really love Workin’ Moms. The 22-minute sitcom, helmed by comedian Catherine Reitman, premiered on CBC in 2017 and has been recommended to me, a working mom of three kids, almost weekly ever since. Now that the series is on Netflix in both Canada and the US, it’s become a binge-worthy show that everyone’s talking about on both sides of the border. I keep hearing that it breaks barriers for women in comedy and really speaks to the modern mom.
But I’ve gotta be honest: now that I’ve watched it, I’m surprised that so many of my smart and strong mom friends love it, and that they actually buy into the show’s low-key aspirational messaging and gross-out humour.
Reitman plays Kate, a mom and ad executive who’s unable to find the elusive work-life balance so many of us struggle to achieve. But in Kate’s case, she’s a married, wealthy white woman. Her privilege oozes from the screen, even throughout the salacious (and, let’s be honest, trite) affair she learns about between her husband, Nathan, and her mommy friend Anne's nanny. In fact, nearly every character on the show either employs a nanny or is a stay-at-home mom—something many Canadian parents simply can’t afford to do.
If this show is about real-world parenting problems, where are the long, snaking lines of parents standing outside daycares overnight, trying to get their kids a coveted, overpriced spot? Where are the women forced to put their careers on hold for several years because daycare costs outweigh their salaries? Where are the women stringing together several part-time jobs and working nights or weekends, leaning on family and neighbours to take the kids so they can make enough to pay rent? Where are the women facing actual real-world challenges, and not wealthy-women problems?
In the very first episode of the show, they actually do try to tackle a real-world problem: women’s mental health. But they turn it into a very unfunny joke. Frankie (played by Juno Rinaldi) announces to her mom group that she has a “wee bit of postpartum,” and from there, the laughs roll in, all at the expense of this character’s suicide attempts and her difficulty finding antidepressants that work for her mood disorder. Instead of punching up, the writers are punching down, belittling those suffering from mental illness and using hurtful stereotypes that show a lack of basic respect for women who’ve been fighting to get society to see postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis as legitimate issues.
Up to 13 percent of Canadian women have little or no support available during pregnancy and the postpartum months, according to the Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey published by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Around 8 percent of Canadian women report depressive symptoms, and some doctors think the actual numbers are higher, because women often don’t report out of shame or fear. Mocking Frankie’s very real mental health issues is really disappointing.
Then there’s the episode in season one when Jenny (played by Jessalyn Wanlim) goes back to work after her maternity leave is over and is caught masturbating in the break room by one of her colleagues. I found the whole setup to be ridiculous. Honestly, who masturbates in the break room? Workplace sexual harassment is never funny, regardless of who the perp is—man or woman.
(While the show brushes off Jenny’s in-office wank, they do deal with the #MeToo movement in season two, when Anne’s creepy ex, Dr. Brad, comes back into focus.)
With Kate and Nathan’s—spoiler alert—split in season three, we also see how families with money can easily separate their assets. Although the emotional toll of the separation reads as genuine and relatable, Kate moves into her own apartment at the start of the season like it’s NBD. But in real life, many families struggle for years with infidelity, lies, hurt and abuse because of the financial constraints. Not everyone can actually afford to break up. (Managing two households, or paying child and parental support, is out of reach for some people.) When Kate waltzes into her new space, almost effortlessly, it does a disservice to the challenges many women face when trying to leave abusive or hurtful relationships.
Workin’ Moms also mostly ignores the truly diverse makeup of Canadian communities. Three of the four main characters are white. Yes, Frankie is married to a Black woman (Giselle, played by Olunike Adeliyi), but she’s not a fully developed character. It feels like a very convenient way to tick the lesbian and woman-of-colour boxes. And Anne’s aforementioned nanny—a younger woman of colour—doesn’t even get to have an actual name on the show. She’s just “mean nanny.” That’s it. If this is representation, I’ve got to wonder, who is being represented here?
Parenthood in Canada in 2019 is diverse, exciting, and challenging. I really hoped this show was those things, too, but as it turns out, it’s not. It’s a wealthy woman’s version of how life can be, when you have the means.